U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse welcomed constituents Tuesday to his new Tri-City office in north Richland, talking to visitors for two hours and even taking selfies with some.
An estimated 200 people attended the event, which Newhouse said will be one of many opportunities for residents to meet him and share concerns. He will have a similar open house Wednesday at his Yakima office, and his staff is working on scheduling town hall meetings.
“Part of my job is to interact with the people that I represent, and that’s what I intend to do,” he said.
The office at 3100 George Washington Way No. 135 has a conference room, as well as an office with two desks. The staff still isn’t completely moved in; a copy of the U.S. Constitution leaned on a table holding a fax machine, waiting to be hung on the wall.
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One person is staffing the office now, which is Newhouse’s second in District 4, but Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, said more will be added, and that he is still looking for new employees.
People talked to Newhouse about a variety of concerns. Terri Francisco-Farrell, a Kennewick woman who is trying to get a Defense Department recovery mission to go to Vietnam to bring back the remains of her brother, met with Newhouse for the first time.
Francisco-Farrell presented Newhouse with a prisoner of war bracelet and pin, in honor of her brother, Maj. San D. Francisco, who was killed after being shot down in 1968. She hopes Newhouse can be as helpful to her as the man he replaced, former Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Pasco.
She was hopeful because Newhouse is meeting next week with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who has helped her before. “We’re going to talk some more about what I need him to do,” she said.
Connell Mayor Blacky Blackwell talked with Newhouse about securing federal grants to help with an effort to build a new railroad interchange to replace one that is nearly a century old. The city recently received $50,000 from the state for a study of the project, which will cost an estimated $5 million to $8 million.
Newhouse’s district director Sharra Finley and Josh Lozano, who heads the Richland office, recently visited the rail site, Blackwell said.
“He’s definitely looking out for the Columbia Basin,” Blackwell said of Newhouse. “He wants to know all the problems in the district so he can help with them.”
Josh Ramirez of Pasco, an independent candidate in last year’s primary to replace Hastings, was one of several people with ties to the 12-person 2014 primary to attend the meeting. Also there were Gary Downing of Kennewick, who announced he would run but dropped out just before the filing deadline, and Scott Boyce, who was campaign manager for Kennewick attorney George Cicotte.
“We all got to come together for the good of the district and the country, so I’m glad they were here to express their thoughts and support,” Newhouse said. “They’re constituents too.”
Newhouse, who owns a large farm, served as director of the state Department of Agriculture from 2009-13. His Tri-City visit came the day after the man who succeeded him in that job, Bud Hover, announced his resignation after two years.
“I enjoyed the opportunity immensely, but it is a full-time position,” Newhouse said. “It takes you away from home and family. I think that was the reason I read that he decided to resign. So I respect that, and am anxious to see the governor appoint someone to replace him that can carry on and do the hard work for the agricultural community as well as the people in the agency.”
The federal government could provide some assistance through loans or grant programs to farmers in the Yakima Basin, who face a drought because record-high temperature in the Cascade Mountains could lead to a lack of snow melt that will be needed this summer, Newhouse said.
“I wish we could create snow, but it doesn’t look like that is within my ability,” he said. “I hope that we can get by this year. My worry is for next year if we have another bad winter. We’re looking at things that the federal government can do to complement the state’s efforts.”
Newhouse also toured the Hanford Fire Department and the pediatric center at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland on Tuesday.